Understanding Property Tax

Home - Understanding Property Tax

Each year, Butts County residents receive their annual property assessments from the Board of Assessors Office and we often receive a number of questions in our office as well about these assessments. To help the public understand how this process works, we have put together the following question and answer series that we hope will address most of the questions and help the public understand what their assessments mean, how they are determined and what remedies they can seek if they feel that the assessments are inaccurate.

They didn’t. The Board of Commissioners has never assessed property value in the history of the County and they cannot adjust assessments or influence assessment values. Property assessments are handled by the office of the Tax Appraiser, which is a function of the Board of Assessors. The Board of Assessors and its employees do not work for the Board of Commissioners-the law does not allow this because it requires the functions of property appraisal for taxation purposes to be legally separated from the governing side of the County, much the same way that the judicial branch of government is separate from the legislative branch. It is a legal separation of powers.

The board of assessor’s are charged by State law to annually assess property at fair market value as of January 1. The purpose of a revaluation is not to increase county revenue but to ensure equity and uniformity of assessments. During the years of the recession, much of the property in Butts County lost value, as it did in all the counties in the housing market. When this happened, the Assessor’s valuation resulted in many properties being appraised at a loss of value from previous years. While this steady decline in values forced most counties to increase their millage rate to compensate, our Board of Commissioners, which sets the County millage rate, reduced the millage rate from 17.413 mils in 2011 to the current rate of 12.209 mils. As of May, 2019, this is the lowest the millage rate has been since 1993 and was the lowest of all six of the surrounding counties. While this has been beneficial for property owners in Butts County, the benefit is realized mostly while the market is depressed. Once the market begins to gain value again, as it has been doing since 2017, Butts County also gains market value.

The State of Georgia requires by law that all county boards of tax assessors investigate diligently and determine all of the property owned in the county for the purpose of determining what property is subject to taxation. The board of assessors must see that ALL taxable property within the county is assessed at its fair market value, and that fair market values between the individual taxpayers are fairly and justly equalized so that each taxpayer shall pay their proportionate share of taxes. The State develops and passes standardized rules and regulations that each county’s board of assessors must follow and it defines a narrow window of variance (called a sales ratio) that the county must be fall within. If the market value is rising around Butts County and the County doesn’t reevaluate property at the rising value of the market, then we fall outside of that variance and the State will reject the tax digest, which is the assessed value of all property in a county. In this case, the rising market value pushed the tax digest outside of that variance and reassessments were required to bring the ratio back to within state required values.

Just as the Board of Assessors determines the value of all property in the County and creates the tax digest, the Board of Commissioners assesses a millage rate against that digest to determine how much funding in property tax that it must have to help fund the operating budget. While most citizens tend to think the entire County runs on property taxes, the truth is that property taxes do not even make up half of the County budget, as most of the budget comes from sources not associated with property taxes. If the only source of revenue the County had was property taxes, we would need about 29 mils of tax just for the County, and not including the School System and Hospital Tax, which are both non-County taxes. In this case, the Board of Commissioners currently assesses 12.209 mils of tax, or $12.21 for every thousand dollars of taxable value. This means that on a house assessed at a value of $100k, the taxable value of that house is 40% of the assessed value or $40k. You multiply $12.21 x 40 for a tax of $488.40. That same house at the 2011 millage rate of 17.413 mils would have cost $696.40 so basically, taxpayers are paying $208.00 per year less for the same valued house today than they were 8 years ago. However, if the market decides, based on sales in our region, that your house is now worth $150k, the same millage rate applied as we have shown above would increase the taxable value of the house to $60k, which equates to $732.60.

A rise in valuation does not mean that your taxes will increase; only that your property value has been reassessed according to values defined by law. This means the value of a mil of tax rises but that the County may not require as many mils of tax to fund the same budget. The Commission has either lowered or held the millage rate flat consistently for the past 8 years. This is always a multistep process, first with determining the valuation, then determining how much tax money is needed to help fund the budget. Property owners generally benefit more if their property goes up in value rather than down, especially if they decide to sell their property. While the assessed values of properties have gone up in Butts County this year, the tax may not go up or may only increase slightly, depending on what millage rate is called for by the Board of Commissioners.

The hospital millage rate of 1 mil is actually a tax that pays required indigent care costs for Butts County citizens who are indigent and who utilize the services of a hospital, any hospital. For example, if a Butts County citizen who has no income or health insurance goes into a hospital in Atlanta such as Piedmont, that hospital in turn is going to bill the hospital authority in Butts County for what is allowable under law for caring for that patient and they are required to pay it. It is not tied to Sylvan Grove Hospital but since many local indigents use Sylvan Grove, they get their share of it. However, if Sylvan Grove closed tomorrow, then ALL local indigents requiring hospitalization or emergency room care would be going outside of the county for care and these hospitals cost us a lot more money providing indigent care than a local one does. Having a local hospital keeps indigent care costs down considerably. It isn’t a new tax, even though it has only been broken out separately on the tax bill since 2016-it was built into the overall county taxes for decades before. We made it separate so that citizens understood that a portion of their property tax goes towards indigent care costs. This mil of tax is not going to “fund the hospital”. In fact, if you used to live in a County that didn’t have a hospital, you were still paying taxes towards indigent care-it was just built into the overall budget of the County as a hidden cost. We don’t want this cost to be hidden.

Each year, once you receive your assessment notice, you can go to the Board of Assessors Office and file an appeal of the assessment. The assessor’s office will reevaluate the assessment and if it is determined to be in error, it can be adjusted. You will be required to bring proof that your valuation has been incorrectly determined and present that proof to the board of assessor’s office. The Assessors may, based on evidence submitted, reappraise or change the assessment.

If you are still in disagreement with the assessment, you can then appeal to the Board of Equalization, which is a board made up of Butts County citizens appointed by the Grand Jury. They do not work for the Board of Assessors but are a function of the courts. Once an appeal is scheduled, you would be able to present your evidence of error in the appraisal to the Board of Equalization and their decision will be final. Please remember that there is a deadline to file appeals! For more information, contact the Board of Assessors office at 770-7756-8207.

The Board of Education (School System) is a separate governmental body, and they are not affiliated with the County, the Board of Commissioners or any part of the local government. They are an elected board, just like commissioners, mayors, council members, etc. and they determine their own budget and set their own millage rate. Any concerns about school taxes should always be addressed to the Board of Education as the Board of Commissioners cannot intervene on any school related matters.